Employment

Is solving unemployment as simple as telling someone to get a job? What are some of the challenges in creating employment opportunities for everyone in Illinois?

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Employment in Illinois 

Given the state’s high unemployment rates and disparate labor force outcomes, it is time for Illinois to take action to overcome the challenges facing its economy. How can we make sure that all young Illinoisans are prepared for work and actively participating in the labor force?   How can we strengthen the state’s economy to ensure that motivated, hardworking young people will have access to the employment opportunities they need?

Who Controls Employment in Illinois?

The Illinois government has the power to significantly impact the state’s job landscape.  The Illinois Department of Labor enforces state labor laws and monitors the wages and working conditions of state residents.  Among the most important of the Department’s functions are the enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage discrimination based on gender, and the enforcement of minimum wage and overtime laws. The Illinois state legislature has the power to alter the state’s minimum wage and allocate funding for social programs aimed at workforce development, skills training, and job creation. 

Key Employment Issues in Illinois Today

Illinois is suffering from high rates of unemployment and low rates of job creation, along with other indicators of a struggling employment market.

Illinois has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.  The Illinois unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in December of 2013.  Only two states, Rhode Island and Nevada, had higher unemployment rates (9.1 percent and 8.8 percent respectively).

The Illinois unemployment rate surpassed the national unemployment rate for each year between 2002 and 2012 (with the exception of 2006, when the Illinois rate and national rate were the same). A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts projects that Illinois will rank last among all other states for job creation in 2014.  The report estimates that Illinois will only add 57,000 jobs in 2014 for a growth rate of less than one percent.

In December of 2012, 66.1 percent of the state’s civilian, non-institutional population was in the labor force.  This rate was 2.6 points lower than the state’s November 2007 labor force participation rate of 68.7 percent.  While the labor force participation rate increased to 73.8 percent in 2013, this rate still represented a 5.8 percentage point decrease since 2000. 

Although the average wage and salary income for working Illinoisans has increased in recent years, the 2012 average wage and salary of $44,076 per year still fell below the 2007 peak of real wages by over $2,000.

Poverty rates are on the rise in Illinois.  Wage corrosion and two recessions have contributed to the increase in the state’s poverty rate from 7.8 percent in 2000 to 12.7 percent in 2013.  

Additional Resources

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Illinois at a Glance

NBC – Illinois Unemployment Remains Near National High

Shriver Center – A Worker’s Guide to Unemployment in Illinois


Some Illinoisans are less successful in the job market than others.

Unemployment in Illinois hits some demographics harder than others.

Young adults in Illinois suffer from high unemployment rates.  In 2012, Illinoisans ages 16 to 24 were unemployed at a rate of 18.5 percent, while young adults ages 20 to 24 were unemployed at a rate of 15 percent, compared to national averages of 16.1 percent and 13.1 percent for both categories respectively. Illinois also ranks among the top ten states in the nation with the highest rates of teen unemployment .

Today, women receive only $0.84 for every dollar a man makes in Illinois.  However, males in Illinois face a number of challenges including high rates of unemployment and decreasing labor force participation rates. In 2013, working-age unemployment was 10.2 percent for men compared to 8.1 percent for women.  Male labor force participation fell sharply between 2001 and 2012, falling from 77.1 percent to 70.7 percent, the lowest rate in the two preceding decades. 

Minorities were unemployed at higher rates than non-Hispanic/Latino Whites, experiencing unemployment rates of 11.1 percent for nonwhite workers compared to 7.8 percent for White non-Hispanic/Latino workers. Minorities face a number of barriers to higher employment and earnings including lower educational attainment, extended unemployment, under-representation in high-growth job sectors, and less access to jobs.  White Illinoisans earn over 10 percent more than their nonwhite counterparts on average.

Additional Resources

Illinois Department of Employment Security – Characteristics of Employed and Unemployed

Young Invincibles – Get the Facts About Youth Unemployment in Illinois

Governing.com – Youth Unemployment Fact Sheet


Some Illinoisans are better prepared to succeed in the workforce than others.

Education pays in Illinois.  More educated workers are less likely to be unemployed.  Educated workers also earn higher wages and salaries on average.  Nearly one-fifth of working-age Illinois residents with less than a high school degree were unemployed in 2013 compared to 4.7 percent of those with bachelors degrees and only one unemployed worker per 100 workers with a professional or doctorate degree.

Many young people are falling out of the Illinois educational system prematurely.  A number of young adults in Illinois are failing to complete high school:

v In the years between 2009 and 2010, only 4 percent of 19 to 24-year-old White, non-Hispanic/Latino students in Chicago were without a high school diploma compared to 20 percent of Black students and 24 percent of Hispanic/Latino students.

v 11.5 percent of young adults in Illinois ages 19 to 24 did not have a high school diploma between 2009 and 2010.  The percent of young adults without a high school diploma was even higher on the national level (13.7 percent) and in the city of Chicago (15 percent) during this same time period.

Of those students who complete high school and go on to enroll in college, only some will graduate.  Only 66.3 percent of White students, 53.8 percent of Hispanic/Latino students, and 44.2 percent of African American students in the 2002-2003 cohort had graduated from their bachelor degree programs eight years after enrolling. 

It will be even more important for Illinoisans to obtain postsecondary education in future years. A study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projects that 64 percent of Illinois jobs will require postsecondary education by 2018. 

Additional Resources

CompleteCollege.org – Illinois Fact Sheet

University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations


Additional Resources

Illinois Department of Labor

Illinois Department of Employment Security

Illinois.gov -- Employment

Illinois Jobs Link